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Ancient China and its Enemies

Ancient China and its Enemies
The Rise of Nomadic Power in East Asian History


  • Author: Nicola Di Cosmo, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
  • Date Published: April 2004
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9780521543828

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About the Authors
  • Relations between Inner Asian nomads and Chinese are a continuous theme throughout Chinese history. By investigating the formation of nomadic cultures, by analyzing the evolution of patterns of interaction along China's frontiers, and by exploring how this interaction was recorded in historiography, this looks at the origins of the cultural and political tensions between these two civilizations through the first millennium BC. The main purpose of the book is to analyze ethnic, cultural, and political frontiers between nomads and Chinese in the historical contexts that led to their formation, and to look at cultural perceptions of 'others' as a function of the same historical process. Based on both archaeological and textual sources, this 2002 book also introduces a new methodological approach to Chinese frontier history, which combines extensive factual data with a careful scrutiny of the motives, methods, and general conception of history that informed the Chinese historian Ssu-ma Ch'ien.

    • Provides the most extensive analysis to date of the combined archaeological and textual material for the subject from c. 900 to c.100 BC
    • Gives a new interpretation of well-known events, including the construction of early walls, later unified into the so-called 'Great Wall'
    • Provides a critical assessment of the first-ever written narrative of the northern nomads in Chinese history
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    Reviews & endorsements

    'This very substantial book is a work of great historical importance. Nicola Di Cosmo has a remarkable grasp of all aspects of the northern border world in the first millennium B.C. Written in a remarkably orderly and lucid way, Ancient China and Its Enemies is readily accessible not only to a specialist Chinese historian, but to any scholar interested in the relationships between the Chinese state and its northern neighbors in later times. This is a fine book, from which I have learned a great deal, and which has made me question some of my own ideas.' Denis Twitchett, Princeton University

    'Throughout the second century B.C., the world of East Asia was divided between two great superpowers, the Han Chinese and the Hsiung-nu, facing off against each other sometimes peaceably and sometimes antagonistically. In Ancient China and Its Enemies, Nicola Di Cosmo provides a magisterial survey of the rise of the lesser known of these two powers, the nomadic Hsiung-nu. This book is invaluable not only for understanding the relations between ancient China and its major enemy, but also for understanding either of the powers individually.' Edward Shaughnessy, University of Chicago

    '… combines the clarity and comprehensiveness of a textbook with the novelty and originality of the specialist-oriented study.' Yuri Pines, Institute of Historical Research Web Reviews

    '… this is an important work and a valuable contribution to the field, which should be read by anyone interested in the history of Chinese-nomadic interactions. Di Cosmo's scholarship is firs-rate, and his mastery of a dizzying array of sources in Chinese and a number of European languages is impressive.' The Journal of Asian Studies

    '… does an excellent job of synthesizing known facts drawn from archaeology and geography with various theories on the emergence of nomadic steppe culture. Particularly valuable is the extensive use of Chinese-language archaeological reports, and the map on pp.60-61 is an excellent aid … This is an excellent book packed with information and insightful analysis'. Journal of Social Anthropology

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    Product details

    • Date Published: April 2004
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9780521543828
    • length: 380 pages
    • dimensions: 229 x 152 x 21 mm
    • weight: 0.56kg
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I:
    1. The Steppe Highway: the rise of pastoral nomadism as a Eurasian phenomenon
    2. Bronze, iron and gold: the evolution of nomadic cultures on the northern frontier of China
    Part II:
    3. Beasts and birds: the historical context of early Chinese perceptions of northern peoples
    4. Walls and horses: the beginning of historical contacts between horse-riding Nomads and Chinese states
    Part III:
    5. Those who draw the bow: the rise of the Hsiung-nu Nomadic Empire and the political unification of the Nomads
    6. From peace to war: China's shift from appeasement to military engagement
    Part IV:
    7. In search of grass and water: ethnography and history of the North in the Historian's Records
    8. Taming the North: the rationalization of the nomads in Ssu-ma Ch'ien's historical thought

  • Author

    Nicola Di Cosmo, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand
    Nicola Di Cosmo is Senior Lecturer in Chinese History at the University of Canterbury (Christchurch, New Zealand).

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